Lecithin supplements are safe for most people, but they can cause side effects, and pregnant women shouldn’t take them unless their doctor gives the go-ahead. Lecithin alone shouldn't cause allergic reactions, but supplements contain lecithin extracted from allergy-causing foods. If you take supplements and develop symptoms of a severe allergic reaction, such as difficulty breathing; swelling of the throat, lips, tongue or face; or red, itchy patches on your skin, seek immediate medical attention.
Lecithin is the common name for a fat called phosphatidylcholine. Your body produces phosphatidylcholine from choline, but choline must come from dietary sources, such as lean meat, poultry, fish, dairy products and eggs.
Phosphatidylcholine, or lecithin, builds cell membranes, ensures normal cell functioning and is essential for safely transporting cholesterol through the bloodstream. Lecithin supplements may boost the production of acetylcholine in the brain or lower cholesterol, but more research is needed to verify the supplement’s effectiveness, reports Drugs.com.
Potential Side Effects
Lecithin is generally recognized as safe, but even normal doses may cause gastrointestinal problems, such as a stomachache and diarrhea or loose stools, according to the University of Utah Health Care.
About 20 percent to 90 percent of lecithin consists of phosphatidylcholine, depending on the source, reports Linus Pauling Institute. The choline component can cause sweating and a fishy body odor when taken in high doses, but most lecithin supplements don’t contain enough choline to cause those side effects.
Soybeans and eggs are two of the eight foods responsible for 90 percent of all food allergies, reports FamilyDoctor.org. Many supplements are made from soybean lecithin, which contains proteins that may cause an allergic reaction.
The allergy-causing proteins in eggs come from egg whites, and lecithin is extracted from the yolk. However, the yolk is easily cross-contaminated. People who are allergic to eggs should stay away from all egg-containing products.
Even though allergic reactions to lecithin supplements are rare, be cautious and consult your allergy specialist if you’re allergic to soy or eggs. You can also buy supplements made from other sources, such as sunflower or rapeseed lecithin.
Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding should talk to their physician before taking lecithin supplements to be sure they’re safe for the baby.
Reactions between medications and lecithin supplements have not been reported, but consult your health care provider or pharmacist before mixing lecithin with any other medications or herbal supplements, advises the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center.
The Institute of Medicine recommends getting 425 milligrams to 550 milligrams of choline daily, but intake guidelines for lecithin have not been established, and you can meet your choline needs through your diet. The best approach is to follow the directions on the supplements you buy. Do not exceed the dose recommended by your doctor.
Buy supplements that have a quality mark on the label from the U.S. Pharmacopeia, NSF International or Consumer Lab. This seal means the product was independently tested to verify that the supplement contains the ingredients on the label and doesn't have harmful contaminants.
- Drugs.com: Lecithin
- The AOCS Lipid Library: Phosphatidylcholine and Related Lipids
- FamilyDoctor.org: Food Allergies
- Food Allergy Research and Education: Egg Allergy
- International Archives of Allergy and Immunology: Identification of IgE-Binding Proteins in Soy Lecithin
- Linus Pauling Institute: Choline
- University of Utah Health Care: Lecithin
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Supplements: What You Need to Know
- Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center: Lecithin